Soldiers’ Mothers, HIV/AIDS NGOs Under Attack & Anti-Fascist Murdered in Moscow

There are three rather disturbing articles in the April 20 edition of the
Moscow Times that are worth mentioning.

The first, “Soldiers’ Mothers in the Crosshairs,” concerns how the Justice Ministry’s Federal Registration Service lawsuit against the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees. However, when the case was made public when the Soldier’s Mothers received a summons to appear at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court, it was dropped. Clearly, the government didn’t want to risk the bad press and potential public outcry that could potentially come by targeting this organization under the new NGO registration law. In addition, a court case would inevitably bring more attention to the horrible conditions in the Russian military. With increasing public disgust over dedovshchina, attempting to shut down the Soldier’s Mothers couldn’t produce anything positive. So writes the Times:

Lev Ponomaryov, the head of For Human Rights, an NGO, said the lawsuit signaled the beginning of the end for Soldiers’ Mothers, adding that authorities would probably shutter the group after the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Ponomaryov said NGOs such as Soldiers’ Mothers “are not convenient for an authoritarian power.”

Alexei Zhafyarov, who runs the registration service’s NGO department, conceded that Soldiers’ Mothers had for the past five years provided reports indicating that they were in operation, along with information about current leadership, addresses and telephone numbers. These reports were filed in early April, after the suit was filed in court, Zhafyarov said. Oddly, Melnikova said she had learned of the suit only on Wednesday. She refused to discuss the accusations lodged against Soldiers’ Mothers.

Zhafyarov said the five years of reports still left two years unaccounted for, but added that officials were willing to overlook that omission.

But they were still concerned about Soldiers’ Mothers’ tardiness: The NGO, Zhafyarov said, should have been filing timely annual reports since its inception.

Zhafyarov said the registration service would simply issue the NGO a warning. After a certain number of warnings, the registration service may seek to have an NGO shut down, he said. But he said the law did not specify how many warnings an NGO was entitled to before the state can take action.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the Times also features “HIV NGOs Linked to Pedophilia.” The Moscow City’s Duma’s is urging Putin to “restrict the activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations that fight HIV/AIDS, saying they “encourage pedophilia, prostitution and the use of drugs among teenagers.” This only adds more difficulties confronting NGOs working on AIDS prevention in Russia. The appeal comes in response to a NGO named Kholis distributing a cartoon which featured “a man inviting a child to ride in his car. An older boy warns the child that the man wants to have sex and could infect him with HIV. The cartoon ends with the man throwing the naked child out of the car.” The NGO is funded by UNICEF. I haven’t a clue how this cartoon foster’s AIDS prevention. Apparently, the effectiveness was also lost of some backers of the appeal.

“In the United States, NGOs are calling for young people to refrain from sex or to put off sexual contact,” [Veronika] Kochetova [the spokeswoman for United Russia Deputy Lyudmila Stebenkova, who authored the appeal] said, referring to a campaign by U.S. President George W. Bush to put an emphasis on abstinence instead of safe sex.

“We also support giving condoms to at-risk groups like homosexuals and prostitutes, but to advertise the use of condoms to all of the population is wrong,” Kochetova said.

According to appeal, the cartoon fit into the opinion that foreign based HIV/AIDS NGOs are exacerbating AIDS rather than preventing it. The appeal reads: “The implementation of [foreign programs] is facilitating the growth of HIV infections rather than prevention.” Now Patriarch Alexei II has entered the fray with a condemnation of Western funded AIDS NGOs.

HIV/AIDS NGOs see the appeal as yet another attack on their activities in particular and NGOs in general. I have no idea what to make of this report. I hope more attention is given to it in the coming days and weeks.

Lastly, is the story, “Student With Anti-Fascist Leaflets Murdered.” On Tuesday, Alexander Ryukhin, a 19 year-old anti-fascist activist and student at the Moscow Electronics and Mathematics Institute, was stabbed to death as he and a friend were heading for a punk rock concert. Ryukhin died instantly from the attack. The attackers, who are assumed to be skinheads who’ve been targeting Ryukhin for his activities, left the knife in his chest. The knife had no fingerprints on it suggesting that the attack was planned.

Not a good day for Russian news by any stretch.